who was twelve at the time, was collateral damage, hardly noticed by
the men. His mother hadn’t been in the ground two months before his
father began dating a much younger woman who also worked for the
city. His older brother, meanwhile, discovered a long-dormant desire to
defend his country and enlisted in the military.
His sister has never gotten over the loss of their mother. Years have
passed, and still, in her presence he hears the low bray of grief, as though
someone were playing a cello inside her. What has happened to him has
certainly not eased her heart. This he regrets. Fortunately, she has a child
to worry about, and one worry mostly displaces the other.
He drifts in and out of sleep under lights so bright he can clearly see the
pores on the back of his hand. His breasts ache where the nipples were.
Fortunately, he is between partners. At least he’s spared the guilt and
grief of ruining anyone else’s life. That would be a bridge too far. It’s
enough he’s brought this on himself.
He reflects on his last “conjunction”—the word “relationship” he
finds oddly alienating in a romantic context. Not that conjunction is
better. Language, like time, is so confining.
Proper nouns no longer matter. A name is a brand. He has given up
In any case, the woman was older, kinder, more sophisticated by far
than he will ever be. She was eager to move forward with an exquisitely
imagined future in which he would play a part already scripted. Only
he wasn’t ready, couldn’t memorize his lines. He told her: nothing personal, it was all on him. He’d been miscast from birth. Hearts were hurt,
needless to say. His too, truly. His remedy for the ache was to remove
himself from his usual fields of action. It led him directly to that corner of another world where the uniformed men crossed paths with the
happy-looking family of three. Have mercy, he thought as he watched
the weapons rise. But mercy is a quaint notion at this moment in history.
He wishes he’d seen just about anything other than what he saw, cell
phone at the ready to freeze time and hold the world accountable.
If wishes were horses, his philosophy professor often reminded the
class, beggars would ride. So it had been, once upon a time, in a world
long ago. Beggars on gunmetal steeds, with lances.
He opens his shirt and runs his forefinger over the scar where his